Civic Imagination

Muriel: Love in abundance for Bournemouth's homeless people

In the weeks preceding my arrival in Bournemouth my new church (Lansdowne Church) had lost a lady who truly left her mark. I never met her but when I think about ways to serve the homeless in my community I think of the stories I have been told about her. When it came to caring for the homeless and in need, Muriel Hawke’s efforts were remarkable. She was the figure head of the church’s outreach to these groups, called In Touch, and an absolute force to reckoned with. Nobody messed with her because everybody know that she was on mission to bring light into the lives of those who may have not felt it in a long time, if ever. In Touch ran three times a week during her lifetime but if Muriel had her way it would have ran every day. She was the first to arrive and the last to leave. During these times a meal would be served to whoever needed it. They were able to clean up, get a clean change of clothes and any essentials they may need, such as toothbrushes or sleeping bags. Leaders would also share a message from the bible before the meal.

One of the reasons for Muriel’s commitment to serving the homeless and needy was because at one stage in her life it was her in the position of needing a hot meal and help. Muriel had herself been homeless and battled addiction for several years. Her life had been transformed and the only way for her life from then on was to help those who were in the situation she had been in.

I think it was the first or second service that I attended at Lansdowne Church that I learnt of Muriel as the thanksgiving service for her life would be the following week. That evening after the service a friend took the time to tell me about her and the amazing work that she did. I had been struck by just how many homeless people there were in Bournemouth when I had moved to the area a week previously. I had not long been a Christian and Muriel’s story gave me an inspirational example of what it meant to live whole-heartedly for the Lord, doing his will and loving those around you.
A few weeks after that a friend and I felt we should go along to In Touch to see if we could help. We soon got stuck in; serving food, having conversations, taking an interest in their lives, cleaning up unidentified spillages, whatever there was to do we wanted to help. When you see a homeless or intoxicated person on the street it can feel quite frightening when you are alone. The local authorities say not to give them money but in the winter I feel compelled at times because otherwise they may not be able to get a bed in a hostel. Sometimes when I am by a shop I will buy them some food and drink. Sometimes I stop and have a conversation with them and pray with them if they want to. However, sometimes I just mutter an apology and walk on, unsure of what the best thing to do is. Being involved with In Touch meant that I could do something but still feel relatively safe because of the rest of the team and from getting to know the visitors over the weeks.
Many people across Bournemouth know Muriel’s story, especially Christians but I think many need reminding of the amazing humility and servant-heartedness she displayed.

Muriel's story is of massive inspiration and one that I pass on to others when thinking about how we can radically love and care for those in society who we often awkwardly avoid, not knowing what will be the best course of action. Whilst In Touch is a Christian group, Muriel's actions and the actions of others that continue the work, are ones that we can all learn from regardless of belief system. We so often are concerned with our own little worlds that we don't stop to think of how much we have. To share a meal and conversation with somebody who for most of the day may be ignored or stared at by almost everyone they see is a precious thing to do because it's reinforcing the fact that they are human's who deserve love and care.
This story, I am sure, would be a lot better told by someone who knew her personally but I don't think it should be limited to this, hers is one that inspire us all to break down the barriers that we put up and reach out to a fellow human being who needs practical and/or emotional/spiritual support.

Bournemouth, love, homelessness, Christian, Lansdowne Church, 

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